The skipper of the young Kiwi team, 36 Below Racing, put on a dominant display in his fleet racing group. The first two days are all about doing well enough in the six-boat fleet racing Qualifying Stage to be able to move forward into the match racing knock-out rounds.
Steele knows it’s far too soon to be counting his chickens. “The results keep coming in the fleet racing, which is nice. We should keep it simple and keep to the fleet racing,” he smiled wryly. “It’s nice to carry some momentum from the last event in Chicago and get a couple of race wins here in China. The breeze started quite strong in the morning and fading as the day moved on. The guys did a nice job of getting the boat off the start line and not making any massive mistakes around the race track. We just gave ourselves some good opportunities to pick apart the other guys we were racing and that translated into some race wins and a second as well. We’re pretty happy to be sitting on top of our group at the end of day one.”
Scores of 1,2,1,1 place Steele as the clear leader of Group 2 ahead of Ian Williams who sits on 11 points, a point in front of top 49er sailor from Australia, David Gilmour. Former tactician for Williams and now TV commentator on the Tour, Simon Shaw says the multiple World Champion is looking good at the helm of GAC Pindar. “With Ian it’s all about getting the processes right, and his team looked very solid, very methodical today. I think having Paul Campbell-James [wing trimmer on America’s Cup team Land Rover BAR] is a key advantage for the crew; it puts Ian in a position to be able to win this week.”
Shaw, who has either raced in or commentated on almost every World Match Racing Tour for more than a decade, can’t recall a field that looks so wide open. “It is genuinely hard to pick a favourite right now. It might have been Phil Robertson up until a couple of months ago, but he’s fallen off a bit and others have come up to match him.”
While Steele is running away with Group 2, the leaderboard is much tighter in the other two groups. Former Match Racing World Champion Taylor Canfield holds top spot in Group 1, but only by a point ahead of defending world champ Phil Robertson and Frenchman Yann Guichard who are tied for second. Fresh off the plane this morning, Robertson was a little ring rusty to begin with, but started to find his form as the day progressed. “We touched down early this morning and just got the car here in time,” said Robertson, skipper of the Kiwi crew on board China One Ningbo.
“What a glamour here in Shenzhen, China,” he added. “It’s quite warm for this time of year and light airs, so it’s going to be a tricky venue and a good event. Our first day of qualifying, we did alright, started a bit slow and pulled it together at the end, finished with a bullet. Being second overall is OK and we’re within striking distance of the front. Day one is about finding your feet and getting into your groove. Tomorrow is where you want to start ramping it up.”
In Group 3 there were three different different winners, with Australia’s Harry Price taking two bullets and The Netherlands’ Pieter-Jan Postma and Sweden’s Nicklas Dackhammar one apiece. Another Swede Johnie Berntsson may not have won any races but his consistency places the Swedish Flux Team in first overall. However the points are very tight and it’s hard to see who’s going to come through on top in Group 3.
As ever, success often comes down to split-second timing on the reaching starts. Get it right, and it can catapult you into the lead. But push it too hard and you cop a penalty. And if you go for a middle-of-the-road start you’re very likely to come away with a middle-of-the-road result across the finish line. With so much at stake this week, knowing when to pull that itchy trigger finger is going to be key.
The first day of the WMRT Match Racing World Championship marks the prologue leading into the 2017 China Cup International Regatta. WMRT China has worked to secure Asia’s largest sailing regatta as a collaborator for this year’s final. Yesterday evening, David Zhong extended a warm welcome to all sailors and was excited to see the M32s racing at this, the 11th annual edition of the China Cup.
Wednesday sees the conclusion of the fleet race Qualifying Stage, when the bottom team in each group will move to the Sail Off to fight for the remaining spot in the Super 16 Stage.
Qualifying Session 1 Results
1. Taylor Canfield (ISV), US One Sailing Team – 8 pts
2. Phil Robertson (NZL), China One Ningbo – 9 pts
3. Yann Guichard (FRA), Spindrift Racing – 9 pts
4. Måns Holmberg (SWE), Gothenburg Racing – 18 pts
6. Markus Edegran (USA), E11even Racing – 18 pts
5. Steve Thomas (AUS), RPM Racing – 24 pts
1. Chris Steele (NZL), 36 Below Racing – 5 pts
2. Ian Williams (GBR), GAC Pindar – 11 pts
3. David Gilmour (AUS), Team Gilmour – 12 pts
4. Jonas Warrer (DEN), Warrer Racing – 18 pts
5. Torvar Mirsky (AUS), Mirsky Racing Team – 18 pts
6. Joachim Aschenbrenner (DEN), ART Sailing – 20 pts
1. Johnie Berntsson (SWE), Flux Team – 11 pts
2. Pieter-Jan Postma (NED), Sailing Team NL – 12 pts
3. Harry Price (AUS), Down Under Racing – 12 pts
4. Nicklas Dackhammar (SWE), Essiq Racing Team – 14 pts
5. Sam Gilmour (AUS), Neptune Racing – 16 pts
6. Matt Jerwood (AUS), Redline Racing – 21 pts